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Virginia vs. Ohio University: what the Cavaliers need to focus on going into Week 3

If I were Bronco Mendenhall...

NCAA Football: Virginia at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Caron is back once again here ahead of Virginia’s Week 3 home game against the Ohio University Bobcats. Last week, one area of improvement I harped on after the Richmond game was on special teams. It looks like Bronco Mendenhall clearly reads these columns because, which unit should win for ‘Most Improved’ last week? Yep, special teams.

The Virginia Cavaliers are coming off of their first loss of the season against Indiana University. After a slow start, bad weather conditions hindered the ‘Hoos second-half comeback attempt and the team fell to the Hoosiers 20-16 in a game that was messy on all fronts. Maybe Coach Mendenhall will follow more of my advice this week to get back above .500.

Virginia now returns to Charlottesville for a two game homestand at Scott Stadium that kicks off next week when Virginia hosts Ohio University.

Here’s what the team could improve on going into Week 3:

Force Perkins to use his options in practice (again).

Perkins was the leading rusher for the Cavaliers, going for 123 yards on 25 carries with no scores. He passed for an additional 106 yards and two touchdowns but the ‘Hoos still fell short. But here’s the thing: Virginia didn’t utilize all of its offensive weapons.

Perkins has great legs don’t get me wrong, but after making fantastic use of Jordan Ellis in Week 1, Virginia limited his carries against Indiana for reasons that I still don’t understand. Yes, Indiana covered him well. But Ellis only had 12 carries against the Hoosiers for 63 yards, while Perkins managed to run for 123. Perkins should be using his legs as a last resort, especially when he’s got Ellis, among others, to run the ground game for him. He should spend this week practicing relying more heavily on his running backs rather than continuously carrying himself.

It’s a) safer for him, b) conserves his energy, c) maximizes Virginia’s talent and d) makes the offense less predictable. If you know a QB will run himself as soon as there is pressure, well, that makes for a pattern that’s pretty easy for defenses to pickup.

Jason Beck should also practice the pass game with Perkins some more this week. Last week wasn’t bad, especially given the horrible conditions the ‘Hoos played in, but defending the air is one of the Bobcats weak spots. Virginia should 100% capitalize on that and use this as an opportunity to get Perkins more practice in the air. Ohio struggled with the passing game in their season opener, allowing Howard QB Caylin Newton (Cam Newton’s little brother) to go off for 439 yards and three touchdowns. Ohio would be a great opportunity for Perkins to practice his passing and get some reps in with his receivers.

Ball control, ball control, ball control

The Cavaliers struggled to maintain control on both sides of the ball. It was a messy game on a messy night, so I can’t fault them too much for this, but with the upcoming weather forecast in Charlottesville being what it is, Mendenhall can definitely still make it a point of focus going into Week 3.

Last week saw a few key moments where the Cavaliers lost control: Joe Reed fumbled a return in the first half that set Indiana up to score two plays later to take a 13-7 lead, then there were the pass interference calls that cost Virginia pretty significantly. The ‘Hoos totaled 56 yards in penalties, which is definitely not ideal. There were also a few passes by Perkins that easily could’ve been intercepted, like when he launched the ball right to the middle of the field on the run late in the first half on a third-and-23. Basically, all units should have a renewed focus on playing controlled, smart and clean football back in Charlottesville.

The team also couldn’t control Indiana’s rushers, which wasn’t as much a matter of ball control as it was a matter of underestimating the opponent. But, alas, it still gave the Hoosiers some serious yards last week. All of these mistakes combined were enough to stop the Cavaliers from completing their comeback against the Hoosiers.

Defending the ground game

Ohio pulled their starting QB Nathan Rourke after just one quarter of play in their season opener against Howard. The Bobcats then had a bye week to figure things out. Virginia’s backfield should expect a reconstructed Bobcat offense, which could easily be under the direction of redshirt junior Quinton Maxwell, who came off the bench in Week 1 for a career high 233 passing yards with two touchdown passes. But, Rourke showed a knack for getting things going on the ground in 2017. Virginia should prepare for both possibilities, especially until Ohio releases their depth chart.

Defending the run game, however, is something Virginia should focus on no matter who Ohio starts on Saturday. Virginia allowed Indiana’s freshman running back Stevie Scott to rush for 204 yards and a touchdown last week. Mendenhall was critical of his team’s run defense after the game.

“It’s not acceptable. We made critical stops when we had to and kept the points low enough to have a chance to win,” Mendenhall said. “However, not playing the ball as well as their receivers played the ball and not playing consistent run defense allowed Indiana to maintain control of the game in terms of momentum.”

We also can’t forget that one of Ohio’s biggest strengths is its offensive line. If the offensive line can open some holes, Ohio could have a successful day on the ground. Moral of the story: defense should spend the week shaping things up after a sloppy showing against Indiana.